Trafficking human beings in the EU

Silhouette of a woman walking down a dark street between tall buildings, photo by Tim Tebow Foundation via Unsplash

Photo by Tim Tebow Foundation via Unsplash

What is the issue?

More than 50,000 victims of trafficking were registered in the EU between 2013 and 2020, with the actual number of victims (registered and unregistered) likely being much higher. European legislation, dating from 2011, aims to provide a consistent approach to tackling trafficking across all EU member states. While progress has been made, gaps in implementation, changes in technologies and global instabilities mean that this decade-old framework urgently needed to be updated and strengthened.

How did we help?

At the request of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, RAND Europe, in partnership with EY, evaluated the 2011 EU directive on preventing human trafficking and outlining the priority areas for improvement. This work informed Commission proposals, published in December 2022, for measures to better prevent and combat trafficking in human beings and to protect its victims.

What did we find?

We found that human trafficking in the EU is increasingly facilitated online and shows no sign of declining. Many fear that we will see numbers rise, as women and children fleeing Ukraine are at high risk of exploitation. Among registered victims, we found that:

  • Three-quarters are female, most often trafficked for sexual exploitation, with men usually trafficked for labour.
  • 80% are adults, although up to 50% of victims are children in some member states.
  • Over half of all victims are EU nationals, and trafficking does not always involve crossing borders.
  • Vulnerable people are at particular risk of trafficking, such as those with disabilities, limited formal education or from LGBTQI+ communities.
  • Sexual exploitation and forced labour are the most common purposes of trafficking. Other reasons include forced begging, organ donation and illegal surrogacy.

What can be done?

Our study identified a range of legislative and policy measures that have the potential to enhance the fight against trafficking in the EU, focusing on four priority areas:

  • Improving the number of victims identified by EU member states
  • Improving the number of traffickers investigated, prosecuted and convicted, to address the perception of impunity
  • Improving the number of victims given support and the quality of that support
  • Doing more to address demand for the services of exploited persons.